Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sundance: Scandalous!

[Film Fest] Do not let anyone tell you that the media at Sundance are here to cover the most elevated aspirations of cinematic art. Here is all you need to know about what really gets everyone's attention: Last year, the most jam-packed press screenings were Hounddog (in which Dakota Fanning's character gets raped) and Zoo (about people who have sex with horses). Thus far, the most jam-packed press screenings have been for Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (about a guy who has sex with a 13-year-old girl) and The Wackness (in which the most highly publicized scene involved Ben Kingsley macking on an Olsen twin). See if you get that kind of turnout for the movie about the guy who saved people’s lives in Somalia.

Because we are the media, we all have to chase the most sensational story. It’s depressing, but we have mortgages to pay, too. And tell me now whether you’re more interested in hearing about the movie with the noble doctor, or the Mary-Kate face-sucking. That’s what I thought.

The Wackness, from writer-director Jonathan Levine, chronicles the coming of age of high-school graduate and pot dealer Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) in New York during the summer of 1994. We know that it is 1994 thanks to the onscreen caption at the beginning of the movie, and also the Forrest Gump billboard on the side of a bus, and also the references to Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and also new Giuliani administration and it is apparently extremely important to Jonathan Levine that this movie screams “1994!” from the top of its cinematic lungs.

There are funky charms to be found, particularly if one doesn’t mind Ben Kingsley (as Luke’s drug-addled, painfully immature shrink) eating up scenery by the pound when he’s not engaging in Olsen-riffic tonsil-probing. But The Wackness cares too much about its central metaphor, and not enough about tightening up its script and its characters’ motivations. It’s a sloppy, shaggy, undisciplined Sundance comedy—but by god, it’s got something to leer at. (Scott Renshaw)

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